History has been littered with iconic sporting rivalries. From Bjorn Bjorg and John McEnroe on the tennis court to Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky battling it out over a politically-charged chess board, these encounters can define a person’s career, or even re-energise an entire sport.
When Lewis Hamilton faces off against Max Verstappen in Bahrain this weekend, an unmatched sporting rivalry will resume. In 2022, this is the definitive battle that the whole world is desperate to see resume, given the drama that surrounded the 2021 finale.
Every rivalry needs controversy, and what unfolded on the last lap in Abu Dhabi was arguably the most controversial sporting outcome in the past decade. Verstappen was seemingly handed an unfair advantage as the race organisers set up a manufactured one-lap shootout that ultimately decided the title.
Hamilton was robbed of winning a record eighth title and when the pair come face-to-face again, the 37-year-old will be desperate to right that wrong. That dramatic finale was the crescendo of arguably the best ever F1 season, as the two drivers clashed on several occasions and the rivalry became increasingly heated.
It was fractious. It was frenetic. It was fantastic.
Sport needs these rivalries to capture the imagination of their audience, and now with another nine months of racing ahead of us, we are desperate for them to pick up where they left off. We’ve been waiting for a rivalry like this to take up the mantle and join the likes of Bjorg vs McEnroe as one of the unforgettable duels.
England’s feeble attempt in the Ashes in recent times has somewhat dampened their rivalry with Australia, Manchester City’s title rivalry with Liverpool is still in its infancy and while Team Europe’s battles with USA have been great - there is something slightly less personal about a team sport.
Individual match-ups are what truly go down in history. Think Joe Frazier vs Muhammad Ali, Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova, Alain Prost vs Ayrton Senna. That Formula One battle that thrilled us for almost a decade is something that Hamilton and Verstappen will not be able to match for longevity - given the Brit’s age - but for confrontations and brilliant racing, they could well come close.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have shared the stage of the world’s most popular sport for almost 15 years now, but their regular meetings in La Liga, playing for two of the world’s greatest sides, are long behind them. Now well beyond their respective peaks, football is desperately looking for the subsequent rivalry for the next generation.
Boxing has produced some truly iconic rivalries in the past, given the individualistic and combative nature of the sport, but politics and finances have delayed, or spoiled, some of the greatest fights of all time. Floyd Mayweather didn’t fight Manny Pacquiao until both were past their peak, it took seven years until Lennox Lewis finally fought Mike Tyson, and recently Kell Brook finally settled his long-standing feud with Amir Khan - but the latter had been out of the ring for two and half years.
It also seems one of the great British match-ups of our generation - Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua - will now no longer happen as the Gypsy King has repeatedly stated his intention to retire after his fight with Dillian Whyte. Despite sharing the stage three times with Deontay Wilder, this rivalry would have been on a whole new level.
Gerwyn Price and newly crowned world number one Peter Wright could become truly great rivals at the oche, but for now - the sporting world has its eyes on one antagonistic feud. Verstappen vs Hamilton is now the must-watch event as they return to the track this weekend.